Milarepa, (1052 AD - 1135 AD), is one of the most famous Tibetan Masters, a great saint and a spiritual poet. His life is one of extreme struggles, determination, dedication to the path and great Spiritual accomplishment.
There are references that, Bodhi Dharma, the great Indian Saint, who propagated Dhyana in China (known as Chan there), had visited Milarepa. Such was his Spiritual attainment. Many disciples under his guidance have attained Enlightenment. Milarepa is known to be the only saint who climbed Mount Kailash. When you view from the Northern side of the mountain, there is a Monastery which is dedicated to him.
Milarepa was born in a wealthy family. But when he was seven years old, his father fell sick and died. His father wrote a will that entrusted his family and their wealth under the care of his uncle and aunt, until Milarepa entered adulthood. But the uncle and aunt seized their property and mistreated them, subjected them to poverty. His mother became so bitter in pain that she wanted to seek revenge. She sent him to learn black magic in order to take revenge and punish the relatives. Using his magic, he destroyed his uncle’s house, which also killed 35 people attending the marriage feast at their house. To this the villagers retaliated. So, Milarepa also sent hailstorms to destroy the villagers’ crop in response to their threats.
Eventually, he started regretting his deeds. In order to absolve the karmic effects of his sins, he set out in search of a Guru. He first learnt under the Lama Rongton Lhaga. But his practice was not effective. So, the Lama directed him to Marpa, the translator, who could guide him to Self-Realization. The Lama had also observed karmic links between Milarepa and Marpa from the past.
Even Marpa had a vision of a Dorje (Vajra), that a great student was going to arrive, but the Dorje was dirty, signifying that the student had to be purified first due to the sins committed by him earlier in life. So, he deliberately exposed Milarepa to an extremely hard probation. He subjected him through physical and verbal abuse, many tough ordeals including single handedly building towers out of stones, tearing them down and re-building a new tower again. This happened four times. And during all this long arduous journey, whenever Milarepa requested for the teachings from Marpa, or sneaked into the teacher’s class with the yearning for some knowledge, he was admonished or physically beaten and thrown out of the class.
He at certain occasions tried to ask for initiation by offering the gifts or even turquoise given by Marpa’s wife. But when Marpa found it was his wife’s gifts or gemstones, he slapped and threw Milarepa to the ground. On one such instance, Marpa called Milarepa and asked if he was angry with Marpa, or had any negative thoughts against him? Milarepa replied that he had not uttered a single word of hatred and never harbored any negative thought against the Teacher. He knew that he had created the cause of his own miseries.
The Lama’s wife gave Milarepa some teachings out of pity, but it had not given him any inner experience. Once, Marpa’s wife forged a letter in the name of Marpa, requesting Lama Ngokpa (a student of Marpa) to teach Milarepa stating that Marpa was busy. However, Milarepa could not get benefited from practicing those teachings. When Marpa later came to know about such deceit, he was very furious with them all. All this desperation to receive teachings pushed Milarepa to the point of suicide. Lama Ngokpa restrained him from doing so, and explained that if he died before his time, he would be committing the sin of killing a God. It was then that many monks and even his wife tried pacifying Marpa and he finally agreed to take Milarepa as a student. Marpa then revealed that Milarepa was put through a series of great ordeals and burdened with increasingly strenuous work in order to be purified from all the evil deeds and erase his sins. Milarepa received many teachings, practices and even secret initiations from Marpa. He was asked to mediate in a nearby cave for eleven months.
Milarepa had many spiritual and intuitive experiences in his first real practice. He understood that this physical body and the consciousness are drawn together due to chains of cause and effect. One of the main causes being ignorance. He grasped the transient makeup of these bodies, cyclical law of birth and death of the bodies and the Divine Law of Karma. He realized the importance of these bodies and the blessing that they are for his own development. Also, how not knowing this, others can get distracted and not utilize the opportunity that they offer.
He fully recognized that we can develop Bodhichitta, by not striving for our own liberation, but by working towards liberation of all beings only! Bodhichitta means raising the consciousness to the Budhhic or Intuitional level, like that experienced during Planetary Peace Meditation, and sustaining it. He figured that mental calmness and a discerning mind are essential requisites for right perception. He learnt that we must act out of compassion for the benefit of others. For this, it is necessary to do service and self-purification along with meditations. He believed that all meditations should begin from deeply aroused compassion and love.
Milarepa took refuge in the three Jewels of Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. He identified that the source of all happiness was his Guru, Marpa and so gave utmost importance to fulfilling all his instructions and maintaining a pristine spiritual bond with him.
One night, Milarepa got a dream of a young blue Dakini, who told him that he still did not have certain special teaching and that he must ask for it. Milarepa went to Marpa to ask for the teaching. Both of them searched day and night for the text from the notes and materials which Marpa had, but could not find it. Not finding the teaching, Marpa went from Tibet, on a long exhausting journey, in search of his Guru Naropa who was in India. When Marpa asked for the teaching, Naropa questioned if he himself thought of this? Marpa replied that one of his disciples received a sign from a Dakini. Hearing this, Naropa joined his hands above the head and prostrated with an overwhelming gratitude to the Divine that such a great student as Milarepa came into their lineage. Naropa with immense pleasure gave Marpa the complete teaching. Marpa passed on the teaching to Milarepa. This was the teaching of Parakaya Pravesham.
Once Milarepa dozed off and had a dream of his village, mother and sister. Following the dream, he took permission from his Teacher and left for his homeland. Marpa bestowed upon Milarepa the Initiation of the Path of Awakening and absolute teaching of the Path of Enlightenment. He told Milarepa to give the teachings with discernment to others.
Having taken the teachings and blessings, Milarepa left for his village and reached home in just three days, which otherwise would have taken several months. This was possible because of his Yogic Powers. When he arrived there, to his dismay he found his house in ruins and the skeleton of his mother. He was swept over by overwhelming sense of grief. Due to his evil deeds, the villagers had abandoned her and his sister. Left with no option, his sister had taken to begging. Milarepa merged his consciousness with his mother’s and the enlightened mind of the Kagyii Lamas (his lineage). He sat there and meditated for a week, with the purpose of liberating both his father and mother.
He resolved even more firmly to dedicate himself to meditation. He got some food supplies and practiced intense meditation for several months. Even his aunt (who had earlier oppressed him) got him supplies for few months and asked him to leave soon as the villagers might hurt him. While leaving, he thanked his uncle and aunt. As an expression of gratitude, he promised them that he would pray persistently for their enlightenment. He also asked them to take the house and the property. He resolved the enmity with them fully and converted it to compassion.
He re-doubled his efforts in practice for many years in various caves and places. Once, he even practiced for two years at a stretch. He slowly understood that Samsara and Nirvana are both interdependent. He taught many people the teachings of Buddha according to the Lama’s instructions. His sister and aunt also became his disciples.
Milarepa listed the caves he meditated in, and told his disciples that if they meditated there, they would get blessings of the lineage. Under his guidance, the highly developed students attained Enlightenment. The less developed disciples came up to a stage of awakening and were shown the path to illumination. The least developed were brought to a level of pure awareness and were set on path to Bodhichitta. He sowed in them the seeds of all virtues and guaranteed them of accomplishing the peace of the higher planes in their present lives.
There was a very rich Lama named Geshe Tsakpuhwa who was envious of Master Milarepa because of the following he had. He sent milk with poison to the Master to kill him. Master knew that his senior students were already enlightened and that his time to leave the body had come. So, he knowingly consumed the poison. After that he called for all people in the region to come and meet him. For many days he spoke of karma and higher level truths and reality. During this time, many of his chief disciples witnessed that the skies were filled with Devas, listening to the words of Master Milarepa. There fell a rain of flowers, with exotic fragrance and music could be heard.
Master Milarepa declared that with the guidance of his compassionate Guru Marpa, he completed the work of liberation. He told his people not to cast him into statues, sculptures or any stupa. Instead, he asked them to meditate regularly, and advance further on the path. He clarified that however learned a person may be, if he lacked deep experience and if he knowingly indulged in harmful deeds, he might throw himself deeper into Self-Delusion.
Then, as Milarepa showed progressively severe symptoms of illness, Geshe arrived and pretended to enquire about him. Faking concern, Geshe suggested Master that if it is possible, he must share the sickness with his disciples or with Geshe himself. On repeated request, Master gave half of the sickness to Geshe, who immediately collapsed in pain, and was almost on the verge of death. Full of remorse, Geshe offered himself, his house, wealth and property to Milarepa and sincerely begged forgiveness. Geshe renounced the world and became his devotee.
Master Milarepa simultaneously appeared to many people at many houses and at many places. At the age of 84, he passed into Nirvana. There appeared rainbows and colorful clouds at the time of his passing away. Before leaving Master Milarepa confirmed, “Invoke me wherever you wish. Wherever you invoke me with faith, I will be with you”.
The story of Milarepa shows how a person even with a baggage of huge negative karma can transform, achieve personal growth, tread the path, attain success and become a Teacher himself, train others and realize Nirvana in the same lifetime.
Future is really dynamic and is in your own hands! You can also achieve this with similar determination, persistence, reverence to the Guru, urge for liberation for self and others and so, by serving and spreading the teaching out of compassion. His feat of forgiving his uncle, aunt and expressing gratitude to them is also commendable.
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Reference: The Life of Milarepa, translated by Lobsang P Lhalunggpa and other biographical works.